The Secret of a Fruitful Life
The grand old preacher Vance Havner once said God has written his message to us in two books, the revelation of nature and the God-breathed Scriptures.[i]
The Bible confirms Havner’s words in
Ro 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…
Perhaps this is why Jesus Christ so often uses the natural world in His teachings. Flip through the Gospels and you hear Jesus speak of mustard seeds, wheat and tares, trees, fish, and vineyards. So often Jesus asks us to look closer at nature to understand deeper truths about life and how to live it to the fullest.
A good example of this is found in John 15:1-6. This is a snippet from a long last conversation Jesus has with His apostles before He goes to the Cross. He’s trying to help them understand what is about to happen, trying to comfort and encourage them. In this process, He shows them and us the secret to living a fruitful life.
Not a fruity life, but a fruitful life, a life that’s beautiful and rich, and full like ripe red apples on a tree, or sweet juicy grapes on the vine; a life that fulfills the purpose for which we are created. What is the secret to experiencing this kind of life? Jesus gives it in John 15:1-6.
The secret of a fruitful life involves 3 crucial areas:
1. You must make the right connection.
If you’re going to get anywhere in agriculture, you’ve got to be able to understand how things connect with one another.
I read of a couple of brothers who moved from the city and bought a farm. They didn’t have a clue how to farm, so they visited the general store down the road, where the owner told them, “Well, boys, the first thing you need is a plow. And of course, you need a mule to pull the plow. I’ve got a plow, but I’m running a little low on mules. I do happen to have a couple of mule eggs I can let you have cheap---$100 for both.” Soon they were driving back to the farm in their pickup with a brand new plow and 2 mule eggs in the back—what you and I call watermelons. About this time they hit one of those deep potholes and the plow and the mule eggs flip out of the truck and both watermelons bust wide open. It just happens a jackrabbit runs across the road, and both brothers yell, “There goes our baby mule!” They take out after him, but after almost an hour, they both give up the chase. One turns to the other and says, “Well, I guess he got away. That’s $100 lost.” To which the other brother says, “It’s just as well. There is no way I can plow that fast!”
These poor fellows were missing some important connections.
To understand Jesus’ words here, you have to make some important agricultural connections. Some fruits grow on trees—apples, peaches. Other fruits grow on vines—in ancient time the most popular were grapes. For grapes, the vine is the source of life for the entire plant. You can’t have healthy branches without a healthy vine, and only a healthy vine produces fruit that’s worth anything. There must be a healthy connection between the vine and the branches if you want to enjoy good fruit.
Jesus uses this connection to illustrate the connection that produces a fruitful life.
In vs. 1 He says I am the true Vine…=the genuine Vine. Of all the people or things that promise to give us a fruitful life—money, power, pleasure, pride—they are all a dead end. Jesus Christ is the only real Source of eternal, abundant, fruitful life.
He goes on to say in vs. 5. I am the vine, you are the branches… You and I are not sources of life; we are dependent on the true Vine for our life and our strength. Without Me you can do nothing… doesn’t literally mean we can’t do anything at all, but it does mean that apart from Christ we cannot produce a fruitful life. We are not independent, but completely dependent on Him to produce fruit.
Yet if you back up to vs. 4, the Lord does say we have a responsibility to abide in Him= make our home in Him. The idea is not just that we drop by for a visit with Jesus now and then. You may spend a night or a week or month at a hotel, or your great Aunt Sally’s house. But you don’t abide there; you abide in your own home. You cannot enjoy a fruitful life unless you make your home in Christ.
Basically Jesus says If you want to experience a fruitful life, you’ve got to connect your life with mine, you’ve got to draw your life and strength from Me, as a branch draws life and strength from the vine. That’s the right connection you have to make.
Now let me make some practical connections about what Jesus is saying.
First of all, it’s probably obvious to you not everybody makes the right connection. Not everybody is connected with the true Vine, Jesus Christ. The Bible says there are many people who are, in the words of
Eph 2:12 …without Christ…having no hope and without God in the world.
Their lives are like some of the fruit you sometimes see that looks so pretty and juicy, and you pick it up and realize it’s artificial. It looks good, but it has no life.
But here’s where my analogy breaks down, because that plastic fruit will never have life, but you and I can have life if we connect with Christ.
The Bible says you and I make that crucial connection through repentance and faith—turning from sin and self, and trusting Christ as your Savior, and surrendering yourself to Him as your Master.
Have you made this connection? It’s the only way to enjoy a fruitful life.
Jn 3:36 He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
But after you make this connection, you must abide in Him. To abide in Christ means to continually live in His presence, continually live in a relationship of faith in Christ, love for Christ, and obedience to Christ (cf. vs. 9-10). Some of the things that help you abide in Him include prayer, reading your Bible and obeying what you read, coming to church, fellowshipping with other people who abide in Christ. Abide with Him as a faithful wife abides with her husband. Abide with Him the way a branch clings to and draws life and strength from the Vine.
Col 2:6-7 6As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.
A fruitful life is a life connected to Christ.
The secret of a fruitful life is to make the right connection, but Jesus also says
2. Your life must be cultivated.
In First Things First, Roger Merrill tells of a businessman who decided to landscape his grounds. He hired a woman with a college degree in horticulture. Because [he] was very busy and traveled a lot, he [emphasized] to her the need to create his garden…that would require little or no maintenance on his part. He insisted on automatic sprinklers and other labor-saving devices. Finally she stopped and said, "There's one thing you need to deal with before we go any further. If there's no gardener, there's no garden!"[ii]
A vine needs somebody to tend it to make it the most fruitful it can be. Jesus says our lives need cultivating to make us fruitful. Jesus says our Vinedresser is His Heavenly Father and in vs. 2 and vs. 6 Jesus divides His work into 2 primary areas:
a. He prunes fruitful branches. I’m no gardener. I once grew a tomato plant for a school
project, but my thumbs don’t have a hint of green on them. But I have heard about the importance of pruning from friends who are gardeners. The word for prune= to cleanse, that is to cut off and remove anything that hinders the fruitfulness of the branch. The gardener is not trying to destroy the branch, but to make it healthier.
The disciples Jesus speaks to here are about to experience this pruning when Jesus is arrested and they are scattered. Their expectations of Him, their false loyalty (remember how they all promised with Peter they would die with Him?) all this must be stripped away before they can become the men whose life become fruitful.
Jesus is telling them and telling us the Father prunes the good branches to make them more fruitful. On the other hand the gardener also has another important task:
b. He removes unfruitful branches. One the same vine there are some branches that
never produce fruit. You can’t leave them attached to the vine because they hinder the rest of the branches from bearing fruit. They are dying branches, good for nothing but cutting off and throwing into the fire.
There are folks who make Jesus’ words here hard to understand, but I don’t think He could possibly have been clearer.
If you’re connected to the true Vine, and your life is fruitful, you can expect God to do some pruning, cutting away anything and everything that hinders your fruitfulness. He prunes us through His Word (cf. vs. 3). But He also prunes our lives through our circumstances.
Job 1:21 …The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.
The thing we need to keep in mind when God prunes us is that He is not out to destroy us, but to help us, to make our lives more fruitful.
On the other hand, Jesus’ warning is also clear: there comes a time when unfruitful branches must be cut off. Some people say these branches cannot include Christians, but I think the phrase Jesus uses in vs. 2 tells a different story. This passage is one of the most important passages in the Bible dealing with apostasy—the real possibility that a person who was once saved can be lost again.
How does this happen? When a person who was once abiding in the Vine decides he/she wants out. They turn their back on Christ, divorce themselves from the faith they once had in Jesus. When that happens, the Father does what any sensible Gardener does—He lops off the dead branches, and throws them into the fire—an obvious metaphor for hell.
That ought to put the old-fashioned fear of God in all of us. I don’t mean saved people ought not to enjoy the assurance of salvation. But I do think it is proper for those who flirt with sin, those who try to straddle the fence between faith and presumption, those who try to be on Christ’s side and the devil’s side—these folks need to beware. The danger of apostasy is not just a Free Will Baptist doctrine—it is a reality.
One of the secrets to a fruitful life is God’s cultivation. You can expect Him to do some pruning, and you can trust His pruning, no matter how painful, to make you more fruitful.
But please remember He also cuts off unfruitful branches. You can enjoy a real assurance about your salvation, but beware of allowing sin to harden your heart toward the Lord. Faith will keep you connected to Jesus, but losing your faith in Christ will separate you from the Lord.
The Secret to a fruitful life is to make the right connections and to welcome God’s cultivation. It is then we enjoy the precious promise Jesus makes:
3. Your life will be fruitful beyond your wildest dreams.
Some promises just seem too good to be true.
I get e-mails sometimes that have subject lines such as:
You have just won a plasma TV! Respond to claim your prize.
Tyrone, you have been chosen to receive an all expense paid vacation to Disneyworld!
Claim your $500 Wal-Mart card!
I have discovered there is no truth-in-advertising law that covers the internet.
But once in awhile you find promises in the Bible that seem a little too good to be true. Two of them show up in vs. 7 and in vs. 8.
Vs. 7 seems to promise a blank check. In reality, this promise is what we call a conditional promise. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you [then] you will ask whatever you desire and it will be done for you.
Remember what I told you earlier about what it means to abide in Christ? To abide in Christ means to continually live in His presence, continually live in a relationship of faith in Him, love for Him, and obedience to Him. You treasure your relationship with the Lord, and you want to please Him and honor Him in everything you do—even when it comes to your prayers. In other words, the more I abide in Him and love Him and obey Him, the more my ideas of what I need and want line up with His ideas about what I need and want. The more I abide in Him, the more I will pray as He prayed in Gethsemane—not my will, but your will be done.
The Bible puts it another way in
1 Jn 5:14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
So this is not a blank check---it’s a promise that when we abide in Christ, He will hear our prayers and either give us what we ask for, or else give us something better, something we would have asked for if we knew what He knows. A fruitful life is a life full of God’s answers to our prayers, according to His will.
The second promise comes in vs. 8: a fruitful life brings glory to God. This might not seem like a very precious promise to you, but if you stop and think about it, it really is marvelous beyond understanding.
This world is a very dark place. I know most of us enjoy a lot of light, but if you read the newspaper, watch TV, or just pay attention to what’s going on around you, you know this world is dark with suffering, dark with evil, dark with death. We try our best to keep the wolf at bay, but more often than we like that darkness invades our lives. There are dark times when it would be easy to believe that eventually everything will be swallowed up into darkness.
But God shines His light into this dark world through Christ. Those who know Him e know that no matter how dark the world is, there is a Light of God’s goodness and glory shines beyond it all. Jesus came to this earth to be that light. He told us in
Jn 8:12 …I am the light of the world…
Jn 1:5 …the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [overcome] it.
Jn 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus walks among us and shows us the brilliant brightness of God’s glory—His goodness, His love, His holiness. But then He turns around and says in
Mt 5:14 You are the light of the world…
In other words, God wants to shine the light of His glory through not just through Christ, but through ordinary people like you and I. He wants people who live in a dark world to look at your life and my life and see the light of God’s goodness, God’s love, and God’s holiness.
That may not seem incredible to you, but it sure does to me. I can understand God’s glory shining from angels, or from the stars in the sky, or from the mighty mountains, but from my life? Yet that is part of the secret of a fruitful life—you get to show off the brilliance of God’s glory!
One Sunday on their way home from church, a little girl asks, "Mommy, the preacher said God is bigger than we are. Is that true?" The mother replies, "Yes, that's true, honey." "And he also said that God lives in us? Is that true Mommy?" Again the mother replies, "Yes." "Well," says the little girl, "if God is bigger than us and he lives in us, wouldn't He show through?" [iii]
Yes, He will. He wants to show through. His glory shining in us is part of the secret of a fruitful life.
Listen, this morning you can go on living your dull, dreary life on your own, chasing money or pleasure , piddling away your time on all kinds of things that never amount to much at all. Or you can learn the secret of a fruitful life. You can connect to Christ by faith and not only receive eternal life, but abundant, fruitful life. You can place your life in the hands of the Father, and allow Him to cut away all the deadweight that drags you down. You can pray and see God do miracles—even the miracle of shining the light of His glory through you to this dark world.
The choice is yours. Why don’t you come this morning and let the secret of a fruitful life become a reality in you?
[i]Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas
[ii] Bill Norman, Ontario, Canada. Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 1.
[iii] James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 303.